As reported in the Evening Standard
Iraq War inquiry report unlikely to be published before the general election
Anger grew today as new evidence emerged that the delayed Iraq War inquiry may not be published until after the general election.
The Evening Standard has learned that one witness received a formal letter inviting a response to criticism only last month, which suggests the report is far from completion.
Other witnesses are said to be still waiting for documents in order to comment on them, indicating that chairman Sir John Chilcot and his team are far behind schedule.
One figure who has had close dealings with the Chilcot inquiry believed letters only began to be issued in the autumn, adding: “There’s no way it can be published before the election at this rate. It will not reflect well on the inquiry.”
Senior Whitehall sources are coming to that view — though the inquiry, which has cost more than £9 million, had its last public hearing in February 2011.
One official said: “The sense I get is that there is some real substance still to go.” Another said: “Put it this way, there is no sense in Whitehall of people gearing up for a publication any time soon.” The situation means that voters are now likely to go to the polls on May 7 with no official verdict on the 2003 invasion, which claimed at least 100,000 lives in fighting plus many more in a bloody aftermath.
The inquiry has been studying whe- ther former prime minister Tony Blair made secret promises to ex-US president George Bush, as well as looking at the notorious claims that Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and preparations for the aftermath.
A Westminster source told the Standard of being astonished to discover that a witness was only sent a so-called “Maxwell letter” in December.
By law, anyone who will face criticism from a public inquiry must be sent a letter warning them of the contents, so that they are able to challenge any negative findings.
These so-called “Maxwellisation” letters are named after a court challenge by the crooked former Daily Mirror tycoon Robert Maxwell, who managed to overturn the verdict of a critical report in 1969.
The source, an individual familiar with the workings of inquiries, said: “Until then I assumed that the delay was because of a ping-pong between lawyers. I also thought a nudge from Parliament might be enough to get things moving.
“However, if Maxwell letters were being sent out quite recently then it is hard to see the report being published quickly.”
Any inquiry must give adequate time for people to respond to Maxwell letters or it could face judicial review.
Legal wrangling between witnesses can cause further delay. Former minister David Davis, who has secured Commons time for a debate on the delays, told the Standard: “The idea that the report should be put beyond the election is simply intolerable.
“The purpose of the inquiry is not vilification or vindication — it is to learn lessons.
“The Commons refused to allow the Government to go into Syria largely because it did not really know how we got Iraq so wrong. We will be blind on such matters until we learn those lessons.”
Liberal Democrat ex-minister Norman Baker, who is backing the debate, said: “We want to send a clear message that the report should be published. If not, we want to know why.”
Mr Blair is reported to have been sent Maxwell letters. But allies of his strongly deny that he is holding up the report.
Last week David Cameron expressed his “immense frustration” at the publication delays.
A spokeswoman for the inquiry declined to answer questions, including about when it started issuing Maxwell letters and whether it had finished sending them.
Sir John announced last May that work was under way on agreeing which messages between Blair and Bush could be published and added that “Maxwellisation” would get under way once agreement was reached.